The end when it came was not inspired by the local favourite brew, the tea from Darjeeling, but by an external stimulus — coffee. The change of taste — and welcome pace — was wrought outside West Bengal, in the Supreme Court. That the determination of the Supreme Court ended within a day’s business the inconclusive tussle between the state government and the West Bengal State Election Commission over the panchayat elections in the state brings out once again, why, in spite of occasional doubts about over-activism, people repose their faith in the judiciary. The Telegraph has often been critical of an over-active judiciary, and today doffs its hat at the decisive ruling of the court in this case. The spectacle — and experience — of efficiency without frills is always invigorating. In the highest court of the land such clarity of action provides an inspiration to all.
This was in sharp contrast to the Calcutta High Court that appeared to struggle for two months over something that was no complex issue of law. It is the mandate of the Election Commission and its counterparts in the states to ensure “free and fair elections”. These are among the independent bodies that hold in check the undue exercise of political or administrative powers in governance. As such, the EC’s decisions regarding schedules, phases and security ought to be regarded as final. In West Bengal, however, the Marxists had formulated a law that gave to the role of the SEC a degree of ambiguity with reference to the state government. This issue of primacy lay at the heart of the tussle between the government and the SEC. Instead of focusing on this question, the high court got unnecessarily dragged into attempts to fix dates and get the right numbers. The way the process was handled by the Calcutta High Court seemed unfortunate even to this paper, which yields to none in its respect for the judiciary. Society has always looked up to the judiciary for moral standards in this age of erosion of values. By vacillating and thereby delaying justice, the high court disappointed those who believe in the judiciary.
This becomes clear in the example set by the Supreme Court, for the issue under dispute was ultimately concerned with people’s rights, with democracy at the grassroots. In a people’s matter, which holding the panchayat elections primarily is, the law is expected to focus on the people’s interests first. So the Supreme Court cut quickly to the chase given the urgent need to set poll dates; the issue of primacy was not referred to it at the present time. The state government cannot be overjoyed at the court’s decision. But there is always a bit of light relief. While crowing over what they see as the Trinamul Congress’s loss of face, the leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) seem to have forgotten that it is the law their party had formulated that has just taken a beating.